Kitty Malm – The REAL Go-to-Hell Kitty

Published by on

Kitty Malm - The REAL Go to Hell Kitty

The fourth real criminal that gave Maurine Dallas Watkins inspiration for her book and play Chicago, is Kitty Malm, the “Tiger Girl”.  In the movie she is played by Lucy Liu and called “Go To Hell Kitty”.  She had a much larger part in the original book.  She was called by the newspapers a Defiant Flapper, the Tiger Girl and the Wolf Woman.

Kitty was born in Austria and the family immigrated to the United States when she was 7 riding in steerage on a ship.  The fifth grade was as far as she went in school.  She then went to work in machine factory where her mother worked.  

When she was 15, she married Max Baluk who she told reporters, “Finally Max Baluk, the Russian in the factory, he married me in 1921.  Then I learned what rotten names a bad man can call his wife.” 

She gave birth to her daughter two years later.  When she left her husband Baluk she sent baby “Tootie” to her mother and paid her $15 a week to take care of her.  Kitty Malm further told reporters, “I didn’t go home.  My stepfather called me worse names than my husband did.  But the baby was safe while I was working as a waitress. “

Kitty then went on to explain that she had asked Otto Malm to pose as her husband and to “smash the face of a dirty man down the street who’s tryin’ to steal my kid.”  Otto did and the two went into partnership, Otto calling Kitty, “Sweetheart”.  He showered baby Tootie with luxuries, clothes, toys, food, whatever Kitty wanted.  Together along with Eric Noren and a changeable gang, they robbed a variety of places.

Otto Malm
Blonde Kitty Beck

On November 5, 1923 an amateur night watchman, Edward Lehman was shot and killed during a holdup of the Delson Knitting Works.  Also included in the loot from the Delson Knitting Works was $100 worth of baby clothes for baby Tootie.

There were four suspects, three were arrested “Blonde Kitty”, Ethel Beck, an 18-year-old from the north side and Walter Bockleman, the head of a small gang of robbers. 

The third suspect was Otto Malm.   Malm had been sentenced twelve years before for the murder of a tailor, Andrew Jensen, he was sentenced to Pontiac Reformatory from which he escaped.   

Otto  was arrested for the robbery of a butcher shop and while he was being questioned about the robbery, he confessed to the murder of Edward Lehman, although he was sure that it was Kitty’s bullet that killed Lehman.  He also confessed to many robberies including the theft of a dining room suite for their bungalow, a bedroom suite also for their home, furs and baby clothes.

The fourth was the “Tiger Woman”, Kitty Malm, Otto’s common law wife.  Kitty was shot in the head during the hold-up and Otto threw her into the car that Eric Noren was driving. 

Otto with police

The police returned to the house where Otto and Kitty were living and were refused entrance.  Deputy Sherriff Louis Flentye ordered policeman to guard the front and back while he went back to the station to see what to do.  While he was gone Kitty and Victor McCarthy left from the back door and went to a Boarding House in Indianapolis. 

The police were inside of the apartment, not guarding the doors as ordered and shot at Flentye when he returned thinking he was McCarthy, they fired six or eight shots over his head and as he ran for his life, they arrested him and took him back to the station in the paddy wagon.  Sherriff Morgan was indignant and made a formal complaint to the Police Chief, Morgan Collins.  The police involved were suspended.

Police were on the hunt for Kitty.  The Chief of Police issued a shoot-to-kill order to all the Chicago policemen.  The reason he did was that her “husband”, Otto told them that she had her “gat” with her.  Otto her husband confessed to shooting Edward Lehman but also confessed that Kitty shot at him too.  19-year-old Kitty was desperate and on the run. 

With Otto in jail, police took custody of their two-year-old daughter Tootie.  Kitty turned herself in so that she could see her baby. 

Belva Gaertner and Kitty Malm

Belva and Kitty playing Cards on Murderess Row

Police are totally confused.  Otto and Kitty “The Tiger Girl” confessed to murdering Edward Lehman, however, “Kitty the Blonde” swears that she and Bockelman did it. Bockelman claims innocence, that he was at a crap game at the time of the shooting.   All the confessions at some point have been repudiated, and Lehman on his death bed accused Bockelman of shooting him.  Kitty “The Tiger Girl” admits to committing the robbery but swears she didn’t shoot the night watchman.  So, the police are going to turn everything over to the Grand Jury. 

Otto and Kitty are put on suicide watch in the jail.  Kitty had tried to hang herself by twisting a sheet into a rope, tying it to the upper rung of her cell, and jumping off a chair.  A female guard found her hanging and her face turned black and the matron cut her down in time.  In her suicide note to Otto, she told him that she loved him and couldn’t live without him.  Otto was on a hunger strike.  He hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for 72 hours but had smoked cigarettes incessantly.  The guards threatened to  take the cigarettes away from him and he began eating and drinking again.

The Grand Jury was delayed as the main witness, Albert Stemwedel was subpoenaed and failed to report.  Police were on the hunt for him.  Albert insisted that it was Bockelman that shot Edward Lehman even though both Otto and Kitty confessed.  Both couples, along with Eric Noren were charged by the Grand Jury with the murder of Edward Lehman.

Kitty with her child

Kitty Malm, “The Wolf Girl”, “The Tiger Girl”, hard time finding a jury that would consider the death penalty for a woman and a mother.  Police also arrested Max Baluk, Kitty’s legal husband so that Otto could testify against her.  The trial began with only eight jurors.  They hoped to fill the four vacant slots and as Prosecutor Pritzker said, “Begin their attempt to send this woman to the gallows.”

Kitty although pretty, did not appear stylish with dirty greasy hair poorly cut, pallor and not particularly nice clothes.  Her favorite dime novel was Reno Rita, Queen of the Silver Thieves.  She took her clues as to how to act during jury selection and the trial from the novel.  Looking stoic, showing no emotion, and reading the Bible every time she remembered which wasn’t often.

Kitty lived up to her nickname “Tiger Girl” during the first day of the trial.  She remained calm and expressionless most of the time but when a juror would cringe over the description of the death of Edward Lehman, she would sneer at them, and she smirked when a girl “Friend” testified to Kitty’s confession.  Her lawyer pled with her to drop the icy attitude, to show some charm and appeal. 

Kitty  replied, “What turn white livered before them guys and them rubbernecks? I’ll say I won’t! “But then her mother brought her baby to the courtroom, she turned to look at the little girl a couple of times when the child had coughing fits but then turned back to the trial.  When the court broke for lunch her mother brought the baby up to her.  Kitty would not touch the baby until after all the jurors and “rubbernecks” left the courtroom.  Then she held her daughter and broke into sobs.  The first emotions she had shown. 

She was stoic when court resumed.  When it adjourned for the day she asked for her daughter and was told that she was taken to the hospital with Whooping Cough.  Kitty fainted. 

When she came to, she said, “Well I hope the gang don’t learn about that.  They’d sure guy me.” 

The bailiff responded, “That would be good stuff for the jury to see.”

“Well, they’ll never get a picture of me doing that” she responded. 

After Kitty left,  the bailiff said to the reporter, “Of course that jury is locked up and well-guarded, but I’ll bet a hat they know all about it before the trial is over.  And that the kid, without testifying is going to save her mother’s life.”

Blanche King

The only time that she did show any emotion was when Blanche King was called to the stand.  Blanche was a surprise witness and had been a boarder in the boarding house in Indianapolis.  She was also ill and was carried into the courtroom on a stretcher.  One day the landlord had escorted her to the “Chicago girl’s room.” 

When Blanche entered the room, Kitty was combing her hair.  Blanche could see the scar from the bullet wound.  She asked Kitty how it had happened, and Kitty told her, “My husband shot me.  We were doing a job at a Sweater Factory.”  Blanche then testified that Kitty had two guns, a big one and a little one; the big one strapped around her waist and the little one up her sleeve. 

Kitty Malm was the last witness to be called to testify.  Otto Malm, she testified ordered her to come with him as a lookout.  Suddenly, Lehman flashed a light on Otto.  Otto fired the gun and the man with the light fell.  Kitty screamed and ran and then felt a shot in the head.  Otto had shot her.  He pulled her down the alley and shoved her into the car.  Then they took her to a doctor and got her head bandaged. 

The jury was out for an hour and twenty minutes, they took four ballots and found Kitty guilty and sentenced her to life imprisonment in Joliet Prison.  Although Kitty was pretty, she was raised on the streets and was unrefined and not thought of as a “lady” by the jury, Beulah and Belva were both perceived to be “ladies” by their respective juries, so Kitty was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.  Her daughter Tootie saved her from hanging.

When Kitty heard the verdict, she flew into a rage shaking her arms around and whipping her hair back and forth.  Screaming, “My God, What did they do?” and then fainted.

Kitty Malm with attorney after verdict

After being sentenced to life imprisonment, Kitty seemed to have her spirit broken.  She held Tootie for two hours before she had to leave for Joliet.   Kitty, the defiant flapper that carried two guns and would rather shoot it out with the police than be caught was a changed woman.  As she left Murderess Row for Joliet, her shoulders were slumped, and she frequently cried. Much different from Beulah Annan’s departure a few days before, as a free woman.  Sabella Nitti also cried and was inconsolable as Kitty left.  Kitty had been the life of Murderess Row.

Kitty adjusted to life in Joliet.  She worked in the laundry and performed in the Christmas Program that the inmates put on.  To celebrate Christmas there was no work in the prison and the prisoners were served a dinner of roast pork, brown gravy, potatoes, pie, and cigars.  The prisoners were confined to their cells but allowed to get a book from the library. 

Even though she only had a fifth-grade education, Kitty began studying typewriting and shorthand.  She became a clerk/transcriptionist in the prison office.

Otto Malm, on the other hand did not.  Otto Malm murdered another prisoner by hitting him in the head with a wrench while they were working in the Fiber Shop.  Otto plead self-defense but the jury found him guilty and issued a second life sentence.  Otto refused to take the sentence, wanting to be hanged instead.  Refusal or not, his second life sentence began after the first one expired. found him guilty and issued a second life sentence. 

December 1932, Kitty Malm died of pneumonia in the Joliet Infirmary.  She was just 28 years old.  Before she died her mother and her daughter who by then was going by Katherine and was 12 years old were able to visit Kitty at her bedside. 

Categories: Posts


Leave a Reply